Coffee @ Edison's with John Kastner

At the age of 13, John Kastner began working as a clerk at Stan’s Village Market in Sebringville, a village 10 minutes outside of Stratford. Stan’s provided everything ‘you needed today’ including milk, meat and chewing tobacco. John and his boss would travel most mornings to a fresh fruit market in Grimsby. After ensuring the quality of the peaches, through a tasting of course, John would sell the fruit out of a full truck. 

Coming from a small town, John was apprehensive about school in the big city of Stratford but soon got involved in sports. Often sitting on the bench of his school team, John had the time to learn from his basketball coach who was regimented in his approach to preparation. John recited the coach's line when the game was deadlocked with a few seconds to go: ‘And boys this is why we practice’.  John later became a paperboy, worked as a reporter and rose through the ranks to become managing editor at The Beacon Herald, Stratford’s local daily newspaper. He wrote newspaper stories for over 33 years.

John is currently responsible for writing the story of the Stratford-Perth Museum where he is the General Manager, as job he is well for as his family arrived in the Stratford area in 1832. The Stratford-Perth Museum is not the stereotypical museum, full of dusty exhibitions that don’t change for years, the museum that almost every child avoids during the family visit. Exhibitions change regularly and often address a challenging issue from persecution (Anne Frank in 2016), to identity (Masks in 2017). to minorities (Nanuk’s Journey). Attendance has grown from 853 annual visitors in 2013, when John began his stint to, 11,000 in 2016. 

WHAT MAKES STRATFORD SPECIAL?

Three things immediately come to mind: live theatre, the culinary experience and community. The Stratford Festival presents a dynamic mix of fun, appealing theatre and thought provoking theatre. With the theatre operating since the early 1950’s, there has been a continuity that has allowed for a family of contributors to develop. The incredible variety and number of world class restaurants means you never have to go to the same restaurant for over twenty meals. Finally, you can stand at any corner street and you will have three people ask what you are looking for. It is such a safe, inviting place. 

HOW HAVE YOU EVOLVED THE MUSEUM?

Museums don’t have to be old and outdated. History is fascinating and I have tried to add a progressive and exciting element to Stratford-Perth that is appealing to as many folks as possible. Collaborating with the Stratford Festival was monumental in our progress. They approached us about doing something together. One of the things was to create a display at the Festival Theatre. 

WHAT ARE YOUR EXHIBITIONS FOR THIS YEAR?

We have four very exciting exhibitions in addition to our regular displays. 

Conceal/Reveal explores identity and the masks we hold up to face the world – to reveal our desired identity or conceal an inner self. Through a dazzling range of props and costumes, the Stratford Festival’s 2017 exhibition will show how onstage masks and disguises are at the heart of drama. The Stratford Festival’s The Breathing Hole, a Canadian play based in the Arctic and presented at the Studio Theatre, is the inspiration for two incredible travelling exhibits at the Museum.

The Franklin Expedition examines traditional Inuit knowledge, the reasons behind the fatal expedition in search of the Northwest Passage and the clues collected during the initial research efforts. Supporting the exhibit will be a number of reproductions of Franklin Expedition artifacts, dive equipment, photos and resource materials. 

Treasure Island, at the Avon Theatre, enables visitors, both young and old, to dress up like Long John Silver, grab a sword, sport an eye patch and pose for a picture on the deck of a pirate ship. Or you can be a young Jim Hawkins and quietly hide in a barrel for safety. There’s even a treasure map. 

Nanuk’s Journey features 17 major sculptures from the AGO’s Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection. Focussed on the subject of Nanuk (the polar bear), the exhibition complements the Stratford Festival’s The Breathing Hole, a new play by Colleen Murphy directed by Reneltta Arluk (Gwich’in and Chipewyan-Cree).

SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE MUSEUM?

There is a trail at the site used for walking and snowshoeing. Several of our visitors tour the exhibitions for about an hour and a half. They then enjoy a walk and a picnic lunch. It’s interesting how visitors need time to digest the experience afterwards as traveling through history can be emotionally challenging. During the last few years, an outdoor skating rink is built each winter, right in front of the museum. 

WHY DID YOU STAY IN STRATFORD?

During my time at the newspaper, I saw many of my colleagues come and go. It was typical for journalists to move to other newspapers for advancement. I have friends who have moved on to various media companies from Toronto Star to ABC News. I never left. Actually, I never even really considered it. I had a young family and felt so contented here. The relationships and support network I have in Stratford is so special. If I pull off to the side of the road, it’s only a matter of minutes before someone stops and asks if they can help with gas.

WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IN STRATFORD? 

When you come to Stratford, it’s not the same as going to a casino town or city. There is a lot here to do beyond the theatre. After the theatre, don’t immediately jump back on the bus. Check out the cool shops, Stratford Art Gallery and, of course, the museum. Many come to town and even love just grabbing fries in a parking lot from Ken’s French Fries or enjoying a beverage or meal at Mercer’s. 

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO?

Colleen Murphy's new play The Breathing Hole is the tale of a polar bear and the humans it encounters over 500 years, including Inuit, the Franklin Expedition and passengers and crew of an Arctic cruise ship. Indigenous people have rarely been part of stage. The Festival has not only brought in Inuit actors but they have brought in their first Inuit director, which is about breaking down the power structure.

Edison’s is very pleased to be partnering with the Stratford-Perth Museum. On the second floor, guests will find a display of an original voice recorder invented by Thomas Edison. The Stratford-Perth Museum is short drive outside of the city (5 minutes) or a 30 minute walk from downtown. The museum is open 9-5 seven days a week. 

Coffee @ Edison's with Kimberly Hurley

Shortly after meeting Kimberly Hurley, a saying came to mind: the best view comes after the hardest climb. It was in Zambia’s dense jungle where one of Kimberly’s most challenging climbs took place. Kimberly and her best friend from Stratford, Marissa Izma, came across Kibombomene, a small rural community without access to proper education and adequate healthcare. The two women worked to build a high school to satisfy the many young local girls' aspirations for school beyond grade 8.

While hauling construction supplies for the new high school, Kimberly met her husband, Anthony, a native of South Africa, who was operating a hotel and restaurant. Surprised to see two beautiful, savvy women in the middle of the Zambian jungle, Anthony immediately turned on the charm. Kimberly laughed at the African Casanova - as she wasn’t looking for a relationship - but she did accept the offer of free food and running water. Over time, however, their bond grew leading to a trial living experience - two weeks in Ireland - after many years of Anthony unsuccessfully attempting to get his tourist visa to Canada.

The challenging travel continued for Kimberly, with Anthony in tow. Kimberly was offered a job helping the hearing impaired in Nunavut, flying between more than twelve communities. It was a rewarding but frustrating five years as the challenges of the North and its sparse service offerings seemed unjust in comparison to what was experienced in other Canadian communities. The pull of family resulted in a move to Stratford where Kimberly currently works as an audiologist. At night, her personality shines at Keystone Alley, their newest venture, a bistro very much worth a visit.

What is Same World, Same Chance?

It began as project to build a girls' high school for the isolated village of Kibombomene, Zambia. The organization now helps Kibombomene women advance their skills at a private school in Lusaka, the capital.

What have YOU gained from your global travels? 

In Zambia, it was about being fully immersed in the present without thoughts of the past or future. Happiness was not based on possessions. It was based on being yourself and being with others. I wasn’t weighed down by things I didn’t need.

I left Nunavut unsettled. There is so much need there. However, the people do not typically complain or advocate for themselves. I have presented a Tele-Audiology Model to the Government of Nunavut, in hopes that they will change their service delivery model to address the needs of their people.

How would you describe Keystone Alley?

The previous owners, Patty and Sheldon, had operated Keystone for thirty years and had very loyal customers. We kept their ideals but changed the cuisine to fit with our passions.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 1.33.22 PM.png

We decided to be less formal with a Bistro theme and a focus on everything being local and homemade - even our ice cream and soon beer. There is also a bit of South Africa incorporated in the menu, especially in the desserts. This summer, we hope to offer a few very special South African drinks. 

What do you love about Stratford?

My parents and sister being here. It is so lovely to hear customers say such wonderful things about my parents - my father was a much loved teacher in town - and they have formed a special bond with my two children.

Living in Stratford has also given me a feeling of being part of the bigger picture. Guests can walk to everything and be connected to incredible shops and restaurants all in a small place. For families, check out Upper Queen’s Park for playgrounds and beautiful surroundings. 

What is your advice to visitors? 

Pick up a yummy milkshake at Jenn and Larry’s and walk down York Street towards Stratford’s Art Gallery. York Street is trendy and has so much heritage. It is across the water from the original settlement in Stratford. Few visitors are aware of the the waterfall in Confederation Park on the hike to the Gallery. The flowers and the cool “bridge to no where” all add to the charm. On the way back, check out the local stores. Get lost in the Green Room, with its eclectic mix of cool items. For upscale, professional women’s wear drop by Dana Nicole’s and Resonance for trendy, casual and professional. The Forest Motel is a great place for a quiet getaway in Stratford.

Do you have a favourite road trip?

Take a trip to Elora Gorge, a quaint town lined with fabulous shops, St Mary’s for its stone architecture and river walk and Shakespeare for antiques. Huron Lake is also one of our favourites. It's quiet and peaceful and immense. Many of our friends confuse it with an ocean!

Keystone Alley is one of my favourite restaurants (www.keystonealley.com). On a recent visit for dinner, the absolutely delicious cuisine left our group in a fabulous mood on the walk home. The menu offers items that most guests wouldn’t cook at home which makes the night out a treat. Check out Same World, Same Chance at www.sameworldsamechance.org. Jenn and Larry’s Brittle n' Shakes and Ice Cream Shakes can be found behind Edison’s on York Street.

About Stratford with Helen Matheson

The Green Room is a welcome escape from big box stores and a 'must visit' when in Stratford. Helen Matheson, the owner, lovingly curates the treasures ranging from a huge selection of Hunter Boots to sassy greeting cards, from a select range of lingerie to Pendleton plaid shirts.

Born on a small farm, close to the Ontario town of Glencoe, Helen quickly learned that life takes a lot of elbow grease. She was the sidekick to her father and quickly took hold of the book keeping duties. As a 12 year old, she became even busier with the passing of her father. She laughs at what people must have thought of her trying to get the laundry up over the laundry line. It took her a several attempts as she was so small. Though Helen desperately wanted to go to university, her family didn’t have the money. Instead, she became the dean of retail.

The Green Room started as a music store when Helen and her former husband moved to Stratford. Buying antique cupboards to put stereo equipment on gave her the buying bug. She came across white dinner jackets at a market and the city lined up to buy them. The Green Room became the place to find prom outfits - 50’s prom dresses - and Helen the styler to teens. During June, boys could often be found getting lessons on how to tie bow ties from Helen. Next up was Hawaiian shirts, speak easy clothing, fashion from Toronto designers, and many other eclectic type items.

What brought you to Stratford?

My husband had secured a music store franchise and we had a choice of two areas - Stratford and Guelph. We chose Stratford because it was closer to London, where we lived at the time. My first impression upon arriving was why were the storefronts so boring. I worked to create a front window that was not only intended to bring in customers but that was something interesting for the city and its residents. 

How did you decide on the name Green Room?

When we moved into the space, it was so large that we had to create a common lingo that would map out where things were. A certain area of it was painted green so we called it the green area. Then, we needed a name for the store, we just decided to use it. Funny thing is that customers thought that we were so smart in referring to the green room at theatres - the place where actors get ready before coming on stage. We had no idea that’s what it was called. 

What have you learned about retail?

There is so much dependance on market research when choosing retail products. I think it’s much simpler - a person who would buy a $400 pair of shoes might also buy a $2 fridge magnet. I tend not to plan but rather to follow my intuition.

What is your favourite part of Stratford?

I am passionate for music and there is lots to choose from in Stratford. Stratford Summer Music is spectacular as it is so creative in its offerings. Last year, they partnered with the Stratford Field Naturalists --whose members walk the trails every Sunday morning at 9 a.m.-- to lead the walk and identify some of the birds singing in the trees. At several intervals along the way members of the aptly named Charm of Finches played their flutes among the bird calls and the wind in the leaves. It is spectacular. 

What is your design sense? 

I am inspired by going to trade shows throughout North America including annual sojourns to Toronto, NYC and Atlanta. I’m also a very loyal magazine subscriber to Vogue, Home and Garden and Toronto Life.  I have a simple buying process - I buy what I love because if the product doesn’t sell I have to look at it every day. Better to look at something I love. 

Any tips for a tourist to Stratford?

Go to the Sunday Slow Food Market at Falstaff. It is centrally located and intimate. It’s unlike other farmer’s market which rely on food from a terminal. At the Sunday market, you will find local greens including parsnips, beets, carrots, basil, tomatoes, spinach and swiss chard. It is a 5 minute walk from Edison’s. Also, do some shopping. Because of all of the tourists, Stratford is able to be more progressive in its offering of products and services as it has to respond to the tastes of tourists from all over the world.

Helen is a very special friend and neighbour of Edison’s. The Green Room is a unique place and one of the reasons why this writer moved to Stratford. Check it out Tuesdays to Saturdays between 10 a.m and 7 p.m. Summer Music runs from July 17th-August 27th. The headliner for this year's program is Buffy St Marie. 

Stratford tips from Amparo Villabos

Amparo Villabos arrived in Canada in 1988 as part of a refugee family in search of a better life. At the time, Chile was under the oppressive rule of Augusto Pinochet who repressed and reshaped Chile for nearly two decades and became a notorious symbol of human rights abuse and corruption. The journey to Canada did not go smoothly for the Villabos family. While in Buenos Aires, in transit between Chile and Canada, Amparo’s father was notified that the Canadian government had abruptly implemented a one year waiting period for new refugees. As a result, the Villabos family found a temporary home in a Buenos Aires church, joined by forty other families.

Once in Canada, Amparo spent her formative years in Sarnia. She was then drawn to Stratford’s arts scene and a gentleman who commissioned her to do a series of art pieces. Later that gentleman would become her husband.

Her love of art led to a position as a scenic artist at the Stratford Festival which opened doors to working on film productions such as the Suicide Squad, Pacific Rim and 12 Monkeys and with directors including David Cronenberg and Guillermo del Toro. Amparo currently works at the Stratford Festival, the Grand Theatre in London and on a number of television and film productions in Toronto.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MURALS?

The creation of murals in Chile were initially Inspired by the revolutionary spirit of the late 1960 as artists headed out onto Santiago's streets to paint. They saw murals not only as a way of brightening up the city's drab walls, but of formenting radical social change. Art is a revoluntionary weapon able to quickly transcend words and alter the course of time.

Mural by Amparo Villabos at Edison's Cafe Bar & Inn

Mural by Amparo Villabos at Edison's Cafe Bar & Inn

What was your connection to STRATFORD?

I was introduced to Stratford by Nathan McKay while living in Sarnia. His enthusiasm for Stratford and especially for the music and arts scene was something that grabbed hold of me.He is a connector of social puzzle pieces. I got to know so many people - some I had nothing in common with and others I had everything in common with. I could feel the magic of the city and of the people who lived here. I have met such amazing people from Justin Bieber to Justin Heeley, a cutting edge designer. 

ANY EXTRA SPECIAL THINGS TO DO IN STRATFORD?

The Stratford Festival has a costumes and props warehouse where you can view racks and racks of costumes. Visitors can book a tour by contacting the festival.  At the end of the tour, visitors get to try on costumes. It’s not only for kids, seniors love the warehouse.

BIG CITY OR SMALL CITY?

We love Toronto and to visit our family there. In Stratford, we feel we have the best of both worlds. There is just so much opportunity here. In a smaller place, you are connected quickly and easily without any pretence. There is a magic here where everything just seems to come together. 

What is your advice to visitors to Stratford?

When I first moved to Stratford, I just wandered the city. There were so many streets that attracted my attention. One of my fondest memories was coming across an open studio. Gerrard Brender a Brandis combines the arts of paper-making, wood engraving, typesetting, printing, bookbinding, and spinning, dyeing and weaving flax into linen book covers. He produces his own limited-edition, hand-made books. On my visit, I was surprised to see what must have been a 200 year old vintage press machine.

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL NEXT?

Easter Island in Chile though the $1,000 ferry cost is a bit steep. It is a very isolated island almost halfway between Chile and Tahiti. The island is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone statues, built centuries ago, which reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.

Amparo is currently working on a number of art pieces in celebration of the musical diversity of Stratford. The first piece, in the series, can be found in the Music Suite at Edison’s Cafe Bar & Inn.

Winter Weekend in Stratford

Exhausted and need a break from Toronto? You might want to give Stratford a try. Sure, you've heard of Stratford because it is the home to Justin Bieber and to North America’s largest classical repertory theatre company, but it offers so much more. It is a beautiful city that is attracting an influx of young families who want to live in a place where they can get most of the errands done in an hour or so. It is a city of only 32,000 with so many fabulous choices for restaurants and stores. Stratford is only 1.5 hours from Toronto, 30 minutes from London and Kitchener Waterloo and 45 minutes from the beach. Here's our suggestion for a winter getaway weekend in Stratford. You can get to Stratford by car through Kitchener Waterloo or by Via Rail (Friday departure times - 11 a.m and 5:30 p.m. Sunday departure times - 8:30 a.m and 9 p.m). Another option is taking the Festival Bus from downtown Toronto.

Friday

5:00 p.m

Check into Stratford's newest downtown boutique hotel; Edison's Cafe Bar and Inn. The building built in the mid 1850's has three gorgeous rooms renovated in an industrial style. The second story room, referred to as the arts suite, is protected by a large maple tree just outside its window. You will find two large leather chairs perfect for reading that book you never got around to, playing one of the games in the room or drawing in the sketch book. The second room overlooks the beauty of the Avon River. A large graffiti wall celebrates its theme of music with a replicated cover of Justin Bieber's latest album. The main floor room s the perfect place to unwind from big city fatigue while watching the sunset over the river from your comfy sofa. In each room, you will find two coffee cups which entitle you to a free coffee at the uniquely designed cafe bar in honour of Thomas Edison, a resident of the hotel when he was just 16 years old. The cafe's proprietor, Buffy, is fabulous at cooking healthy and tasty salads, soups and buddha bowls. The sweets are to die for.

6:30 p.m

Pazzo's Pizzeria is the place for pizza in Stratford. The downtown, downstairs location resembles the bar scene in NYC. The vibe is energetic and the staff are eager to please. Every Friday, Pazzo's features half price basic pizzas and $5 pints on all domestic draught beer. The restaurant also sponsors special music nights featuring such artists at Lisa Loeb, Kiefer Sutherland and Martha Wainwright.

9:00 p.m

Bentley's is a tradition for locals. The restaurant and pub is owned by a lovely family. The three children are in the midst of taking over the business from their charismatic father, Breen Bentley. Strike up a conversation with Tanner, Breen Junior or Brooke. They all are keen to talk and share stories. It's the perfect way to connect to vibrancy of a small city. BTW, if you still aren't full from pizza, order the Cobb Salad and a pint of Black Swan EPA, from Stratford's newest brewery.

Saturday

8-10 a.m

Head to Edison's Cafe Bar and Inn for a morning coffee and treat, complimentary of Edison's Inn. 

10 a.m

The local Farmer's Market is an option, however we suggest a road trip offered by Edison's. There are many to choose from including: towns, antiques, photography, farms, St Mary's and Amish. Remember to book one week in advance. A driver will pick you up at 10 and whisk you to the locations on your road trip.

2-3 p.m

Upon arriving back in Stratford and after a nap, perhaps, it's time to do a little shopping. The best place to begin is the Green Room. The large two story store was created in the style of an old fashioned general store with one improvement - the merchandise has been curated to offer some of the trendiest brands (e.g. Hunter Boots, Pendleton Shirts, Second Yoga Jeans and cheeky greeting cards). Stroll further down Ontario Street and drop into a youthful clothing store called Gruv. Here is a recent review: "Love to shop local, and when I need something upbeat and stylin I shop at Gruv. Superior quality and an excellent selection of clothes, shoes, boots and accessories for everyone."  Other stores to visit include: Family and Company (old fashioned toy store), Watson's and Bradshaw's (kitchen accessories). Grace Boutique and Danna Nicole (new women's clothing), Gatsby's and Gordon's (men's clothing), Covet and Martingale (vintage clothing), Chocolate Barr;'s and Rheo Thompson's (chocolate), Small Mart (gifts), Meet the Maker (art), Indignea (Inuit art) and Fanfare Books. 

4-6 p.m

Just enough time to check out a few of the local downtown art galleries. Shane Norrie is a good place to start. Shane is a well-established clay artist and also a widely-exhibited painter. His work can be found in numerous national and international publications such as ‘Canadian House & Home’ magazine, Canada’s ‘Style at Home’ magazine, ‘Marie Claire Maison Italia’ magazine and on various television programs including HGTV’s ‘Income Property’, HGTV’s ‘Disaster DIY’, HGTV’s ‘Pure Design’, ‘CityLine’ and on the set of ‘Canada AM’. The Agora Gallery and Indignea (Inuit Art) are two additional galleries to check out. If you are up for a walk down the river, the Stratford Art Gallery often has exhibitions and art classes. 

8 p.m

If you are in for a fresh, vibrant vibe Mercer's is the place to dine tonight. The deep fried sushi with homemade wasabi sauce is very tasty. For a more intimate date night, dinner at the Keystone Alley is a good choice. Pazzo's Taverna is an elegant restaurant and is a nice place to dine with friends.  

10 p.m

A late night cocktail and some music can be found at Molly Bloom's, the Revival House and Boar's Head. If you want to step out of comfort zone, the Dominion House offers an alternative vibe.

Sunday

8-10 a.m

The coffee was good yesterday so why not return to Edison's Cafe Bar and Inn. If you want something a bit more filling, you will feel very welcome at Joe's Diner. Say hello to Blaine, the owner. 

10 a.m

Yoga at Moksha.

11 a.m

Hopefully you brought your skates. In front of the Stratford Perth Museum is an old time, outdoor skating rink with nets. Spend some time skating or playing an little bit of shinny hockey. As an alternative, Stratford's Slow Food Market is open in the morning. Here's a note from a recent visitor: 'Picked up fabulous cinnamon cookies and sourdough bread and a head of radicchio and some leeks to make vichyssoise.' 

12 p.m

Take a tour of the Stratford Perth Museum. This is a gem of a museum. They do a wonderful job of bringing together interesting exhibits. As an example, this winter's exhibits include: A Life in Fashion - Garments from the Ordinary to the Extraordinary, Perth County's Agricultural Roots, A Retrospective of Duty and Honour.

1 p.m

A hearty meal and a butter tart (raisin, pecan, coconut) at Madeline's. It's your reward for morning exercise. 

2 p.m

End your weekend with a visit to Canada's oldest Carnegie Library. Chill by choosing from the magazines to flip through and maybe even be inspired by.  For the more adventuresome, head out to River Valley for some tubing or snow shoeing.

4 p.m

Back to Toronto. 

Stratford tips from Leigh Cooney

Leigh Cooney emigrated to Nova Scotia from Ireland with his family when he was six years old. Upon arriving in Canada he was often bullied because of his Irish accent and being part of a poor immigrant family. In his 20’s, Leigh returned to Ireland but like Canada, he didn’t feel like he belonged there. After returning to Canada, his working life ranged from manufacturing to hospitality until his artistic talents took off.  Instead of creating art for the masses, he chose to work on unique pieces that energized him. You can start to gain an understanding of Leigh Cooney by checking out his Facebook group. The Stratford Free Press is a place for local residents to share topics of interest. In a recent post by Leigh introduces a GoFundMe campaign to  pay an independent journalist to do some impartial investigative journalism. 

WHY STRATFORD?

Small community feel with big city amenities. It’s a place where I could find a very good cup of coffee. 

WHAT HAVE YOU GAINED BY LIVING IN STRATFORD?

Having grown up poor, I hadn’t experienced fine dining and really good, creative food. I was introduced to the world of flavours.

WHAT RESTAURANTS DO YOU RECOMMEND?

Raja’s Indian food is phenomenal. The food is authentic. The menu doesn’t change much, it really doesn’t need to. I also enjoy Red Rabbit. It has a great atmosphere and changes its menu to reflect the season. You never know quite what will be on the menu. It could be octopus or rabbit. The kitchen experiments on traditional foods. The one constant is that whatever they cook, it will be very tasty. 

WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO EXPLORE? 

I’m drawn to older neighbourhoods that are preserved. My favourite time to go for a walk in the city is at night when cars don’t stand out as much. Check out Coburg Street, Water, William and Caledonia. I especially like to lose myself in the old section of the cemetery.  There is so much history there. It ties us to the past and is so peaceful. 

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR VISITORS?

It only takes a few minutes to get to a really quiet place within the city. Outside of the city, choose a side road and see where it leads. There is so much nature to celebrate within and outside of Stratford. Get to know the local people.

HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

Death no longer worries me. My body will turn into dirt and feed the trees. I am also much more active in my community. It’s up to each of us to create the change we want. My store gives artists and avenue to sell their goods with the intent of getting money back in the hands of the people.

Meet Your Maker is a very unique store offering artisanal limited run quality products sourced in Canada the USA. According to Leigh, “the more local, the better.” Meet the Maker is fiercely independent. The shop is definitely worth a visit!

Stratford tips from Collin Gibson

Collin Gibson is representative of the youngish class of creative professionals in Stratford - self assured, bright and passionate for community. He left his native Scotland enticed by a beautiful Canadian girl, the wide open spaces of Canada and the big ideas of a relatively new country. Greener pastures were part of the allure but Collin also points to better customer service where each consumer seemed to matter. Perhaps growing up in the crowded United Kingdom was part of Collin’s inspiration for building their tiny house: an efficient house constructed on wheels. Funny thing was that prior to building the house he had not considered buying an automobile to pull it. He did have a place to park the house and that is what let them to Stratford. In spending some time with Collin, you quickly realize his profound wisdom on humanity’s big issues, softened somewhat by his playful personality.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE STRATFORD?

All the essential pieces of a big city without the traffic jams. It is a place built on character. Initially, I was bothered by there not being a Starbucks in town but then I realized that genuine stories form in the local cafes that have been built through the sweat and tears of locals. These cafes are built of brick and the 'warm hugs' of their owners. Stratford is an interesting collision of the railroad and the festival. A collection of technology, arts and food - all things that I enjoy.

WHAT HAS DIRECTED YOU IN YOUR LIFE?

I have learned to stop and pay attention to life's pivotal moments. Even small things can mean so much when we stop, listen and feel. I have also placed a spotlight on friendships. My decisions have been based on God’s peace. A peace of gold my Mom left me with.

WHAT ARE YOUR SECRET STRATFORD PLACES? 

The movement to a throwaway society has made me realize the value of small shops not focused on volume but on the quality of their products and the service they offer. The Artful Badger is a men’s grooming store that I stumbled upon while walking down a street I wouldn't have normally taken. It was immediately evident that the owner knew what the place was all about and that there was no need to be pushy. Instead, I quickly embraced the romantic notion of a vintage razor. It seemed that the owner’s interest was not in selling something but in sharing his passion. I left the store thrilled having purchased a razor and brush set. 

DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER favourite place?

Martingale Vintage is another shop off the beaten path. I recently found it on a leisurely stroll with my young children through the downtown core. On my first visit, I was barely through the door when Kelly, the shop owner, started to entertain my young children - making it much easier for us to browse the racks of curated vintage clothing. I was delightfully taken aback by the no hassle experience. 

WHAT WOULD YOUR PERFECT SATURDAY CONSIST OF?

It would start off with my sketch pad at one of the locally owned cafes - Revel, Edison’s or Balzac’s. Creative ideas would naturally flow while snacking on a croissant and enjoying the flow of the people. In the afternoon, I would hit up a show at one of the five theatres celebrating stage in town. On the way home, I would stop in at Pazzo’s. I love the thin crust pizza and the quality of the toppings baked carefully in a brick oven. It’s as though the toppings were intentionally chosen just for me. They have a private room surrounded by glass walls and wine. How cool is that?

WHAT’S YOUR RECOMMENDATION FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL?

Travel to the extreme, dynamic landscape of Scotland. In Glasgow, search out Saratoga Trunk. It is a weird and wonderful place tucked inside an old riverside industrial area. Once you’ve made your way through the puzzle of getting there, you will be buzzed in. You will come across a massive room with hordes of vintage clothing and other stuff piled to the ceiling.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR VISITORS TO STRATFORD? 

Avoid anything that looks familiar. Follow your curiosity. Be inspired to explore new experiences and places by walking down windy lanes and behind buildings.

Collin Gibson is the owner of Collin Gibson Creative, helping clients through the journey of design and the web. Check out some of his artwork at Edison’s Cafe Bar and Inn.

Stratford tips from Abby Campbell

Abby Campbell is a furniture designer and interior decorator extraordinaire. Two of her pieces are featured in the rooms at Edison's. The first is a cement headboard. Yes, cement. Abby, always looking to capture the latest trends, felt that it was time to move on from fabric and barn board headboards.  The cement headboard fits in well with the industrial theme of the Inn. The second piece is a beautiful bench at the foot of the king size bed in the music themed room. The bench is made from a reclaimed beam with steel legs. Since moving to Stratford six years ago, Abby and her family have embraced the small town feel of Stratford while appreciating some of the big city comforts from a wide range of restaurant to world class theatre. 

WHY DID YOU LEAVE TORONTO?

We were on the search for a new home and just couldn't find what we were looking for. It actually had nothing to do with the 30 houses we toured, rather my husband and I both felt that something was missing in our lives while living in Toronto. We just didn't feel connected to the community. In fact, we didn't even know the names of our neighbours and we are both social people. We felt it was a dangerous path that we didn't care to take, especially considering we had two small kids.  

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE STRATFORD?

We both grew up in the area, my partner in Seaforth and myself in Mitchell. We considered Kitchener, London and Stratford as all have trains stops which was important for my husband who works in Toronto. Stratford is just so gorgeous and visually interesting. There is real beauty in the buildings and the city has so many trees in its core. How can walking around the river not put you in a good mood. 

WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST A VISITOR DO IN STRATFORD?

Start off by taking a drop in class at Moksha Yoga. Afterwards, head to a cafe - Balzac's, Revel and Edison's - for a coffee and don't worry about changing. You will be accepted just the way you are. One of the best things to do is talk to people while waiting in line for your latte. There are so many interesting people here. Get some exercise by walking around the river. Head back to your hotel for shower and then for some shopping at one of the many great clothing shops - Dana Nicole and Grace Boutique. Drop by the Sean Norrie Gallery on the way to the Taverna for cocktails. Taverna has gorgeous lighting. Finally, off to Mercer Hall for dinner. The place is alive with chatter and laughter.  Order the deep fried sushi.  

WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT TODAY'S DESIGN?

What really inspires me is flipping through design books and magazines featuring Scandinavian designs. I love the masculine, minimalist and functional approach that they take to furniture. 

HOW IS YOUR APPROACH TO DESIGN UNIQUE?

Many designers and decorators are taking on a template approach - what works for one client will work for most clients. I prefer to explore the unique personality of each of my clients so as to inject their own style into my work. My focus is on original, custom work and on functional solutions.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE SINCE MOVING TO STRATFORD?

That we not only know our neighbours but many of them have become our close friends. On our moving day to Stratford, we not only received a friendly welcome from many of them but food as well - delicious morning glory muffins. One of the neighbours later mentioned how much he liked the changes to the backyard. I asked my husband if he had given our friendly neighbour a tour but he hadn't. We found out that he was over at another neighbour's house which bordered our backyard. They were having coffee while enjoying our efforts.

WHAT IS YOUR SPECIAL PLACE IN STRATFORD?

The TJ Dolan Conservation area is a sweet spot in the middle of the city. It is so quiet and beautiful. I can get a 20 minute break in nature just a few minutes away. There is a lovely bridge with a view to the cemetery.

Abby's company is ACampbell DesignThe TJ Dolan Conservation Area is a 15-20 minute walk from downtown. To get to TJ Dolan, cross the Huron Street Bridge on the City's West end, by the courthouse. After crossing the bridge, take the stairs down to a road that runs along the river.  Cross over St Vincent Street and continue down the road. Once you hit the cemetery, turn left across the bridge. The start to TJ Dolan will be on your right. There a number of trails ranging from 3-4.4 kms.

Stratford tips from Lisa Stacey

Lisa Stacey absolutely loved her childhood growing up in Stratford.Though she was an athlete, a standout in volleyball, it was the arts that made her heart dance. Growing up in Stratford offered so many wonderful experiences in the arts especially within theatre. Some of her fondest memories were living room performances for her mother’s friends. After a degree in acting, Lisa jumped into modelling internationally on the advice of one of her friends. It offered much more freedom and adventure than working for her father’s insurance company and more than paid the bills. One of her first gigs was as a Miller Lite Beer girl. Her modelling career came to an end when she was drawn back to her love of yoga. Her light now shares as a yoga practitioner in Stratford and beyond.You can find Lisa at the YMCA or at Wellspring, an organization supporting cancer patients, or dancing with her two young sons.

HOW DID YOU LIKE MODELLING?

I absolutely loved the experience as it was so freeing and it was much better than working a 9-5 job. I was recently in London, England visiting with friends. It was as though time stood still.The one difficult part of modelling was how people treated women.They saw us as a commodities and not as living, breathing human beings. One time during an interview for a gig in Europe, the interviewer suggested that I had an adrogynous look and, in fact, could pass for David Bowie. A man? I was not prepared for that.

IF YOU HAD A FREE SATURDAY WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

I would wake up early as I wouldn’t want to miss a moment of the day. Our family would go for a stroll through the city - on the way to Hahn’s Restaurant for brunch. I grew up with Hahn’s daughter after they arrived in Stratford from Vietnam.Though Hahn doesn’t speak English well, it is her loving presence that means so much. In the afternoon, we would take in an event - it seems that there is an event every weekend in Stratford.The evening would be spent with my family and friends playing board games or dressing up in costumes from our tickle trunk. 

WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT?

This April, I will take my fifth trip to Canada’s North to share yoga and meditation with the youth. A friend of ours, Paul Finklestein, had been going to the North for many years to get the community excited about nutrition and cooking. He thought yoga would be a natural extension and asked if I would come. DId I really want to go to such a cold place and sleep on a gym floor? The trips have been magical. It is so rewarding to participate in a different culture - one of sharing - in our own country. To see the kids reaction when I return is priceless. It is so important to the kids who have experienced so many broken promises. In May, we will host a number of youth from the Nunavut area.These are kids who haven’t even seen a tree.

WHAT’S THE LOCAL SCUTTLEBUTT?

It’s funny how change is often feared.This year the city is revitalizing its downtown core by addressing its market square. Many fear the loss of parking spots.This seems shortsighted. I have experienced the vitality and strength of markets, such as Barcelona and London, as places to bring people together. As our world seems more and more disconnected, such places are essential, in my opinion. I’m looking forward to offering yoga classes in the square.

ANY ADVICE FOR A TOURIST COMING TO STRATFORD?

Walk around the downtown, explore, go to shops, try on clothes. Just be present to everything that is offered to you in this very special place.The Bluegrass brunch at the Local Community Food Centre is a fun way to start the last Sunday of every month.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE ROAD TRIP?

The quaint town of Bayfield, Ontario. The town is a mini version of Stratford. They have so many special stores and restaurants.The Black Dog is one of our favourites pubs.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE PERSON TO DRESS UP AS?

We often have friends over to explore our tinkle trunk of costumes.At first, some of our friends are reserved but by the end of the night they are likely wearing a wig and a fabulous dress. Dressing up somehow unleashes a person’s character and, at the same time, it grounds them by playing with each other. My favourite would have to be David Bowie.

Notes: Bayfield is a small lakeside village, 45 minutes by car from Stratford.The Black Dog Village Pub and Bistro is a true Canadian establishment filled with warmth and character.The pub offers a great selection of beers, wines and an impressive collection of single malt whisky, bourbon and Irish whiskeys. Here is a review from Hahn’s:“You would never guess by looking at the exterior of Hahn’s (attached to a gas station no less) that it's where your going to get some of the best pad Thai you've ever had period. Huge servings made fresh at about $10, awesome for takeout or sitting in. Get over the exterior and you'll be happy you did.” The Local Community Food Centre is a welcoming space where people come together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food. People learn cooking and gardening skills, and kids get their hands dirty in the garden and kitchen in ways that expand their tastebuds and help them to make healthier food choices. 

Stratford tips from Alf Humphreys

Acting was Alf’s dream since the age of eight. Once, as a child, he asked God to make him an actor and “in return maybe I can do something for you.” Alf got his wish as he appeared in several movies (My Bloody Valentine, X Men 2, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and television series (X- Files, Smallville, Outer Limits). Perhaps his most famous role was as Deputy Lester in the 80’s movie First Blood starring Sylvester Stallone. Born in the small town of Halleybury, Ontario, Alf returned with his wife and son to Ontario fromVancouer not long ago.Wanting to be close to his parents and finding a community suitable for his wife’s business, they chose Stratford. Now semi-retired,Alf enjoys meeting people of all types especially over coffee.There’s not a person who goes by without Alf offering a hearty hello.

HOW DID YOU START YOUR CAREER IN ACTING?

In commercials. One weekend I returned home in North Bay, at the time, and was enjoying watching a show on my parent’s black and white television with my friends when one of my commercials came on. I think it was an advertisement for Certs. It was followed by three other commercials all with me in them. I was a star that night, at least in the eyes of my friends.

IF YOU HAD A FREE SATURDAY WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

After coffee at one of the many wonderful cafes we have in Stratford, I would stroll the city taking in many of the details that others may not notice. I particularly enjoy architecture and the many churches in Stratford. I often dream of the medieval ages when I see them.

WHAT’S YOUR FONDEST CHILDHOOD MEMORY?

Being brought up in a small town, I had to rely on my imagination for fun and to keep busy. One day we were told to write a story and then three students were chosen to read them out loud. After the first two stories were read, the teacher asked if the class would like to hear my story. The class responded with applause. I was a popular kid then. Once I finished, the teacher asked for my notebook. She turned it to show the class what I had read.The page was blank. I didn’t need to write a story, I could create a story instantly.

WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO IN STRATFORD?

There is so much to experience here. I have learned to live in the present by accepting many of the invitations this city offers. If there is a bridge, I take it to see where it leads to. If there is an interesting person, I say hello. Stratford is such a fabulous place to experience. It is the photo perfect place.

WHAT ARE YOU READING?

Goners:The Final Hours of the Notable and Notorious. My personal health issues of late have made me realize how tenuous life really is. Reading about the deaths of celebrities makes me feel somewhat at peace with it.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE STORY ABOUT FIRST BLOOD?

While filming, Rambo, Stallone’s character in First Blood, was supposed to fake an elbow to my head but it ended up being a full blown hit to my right eye. Sylvester was very concerned by the hit and I couldn’t let on how much it really hurt.Worse yet, we had to do a retake.

IF YOU HAD A FREE AIRLINE TICKET, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

Though I have been to Mount Rushmore, I would go back. It made such a striking connection with me. I would also return to Vancouver where I have such fond memories of acting. I do miss the city and I really miss acting.

ANY ADVICE FOR A TOURIST COMING TO STRATFORD?

We just LOVE Pazzo’s. When our friends come from out of town, we often take them there. Also, the town of Blyth has a wonderful theatre. It is not the commercial success that the Stratford Festival is - which makes it charming.When in Blyth, you should check out the Hyde House - a clothing store with items you wouldn't find anywhere else. In Stratford, wake up early and get outside to see the beauty of the city as the day changes from morning to night. And, don’t forget to visit the swans.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE ROAD TRIP?

Nothing beats a trip to Lake Huron to experience its sunsets. One of our family members has a cottage close to Goderich. Its reputation as the prettiest town in Canada took a hit when a tornado hit town in 2011.The town has been rebuilt with its core being a place to visit especially on the day of its market.

Notes: Blyth is a 45 minute car ride from Stratford.The Blyth Theatre has performances daily, except Mondays, in July, August and September. Goderich is an hour’s drive from Stratford.You might want to consider a stroll or bike ride along the path to the Menesetung Bridge which is the start to the Goderich to Guelph trail, the Huron Historic Gaol that had three hangings before closing in 1972, the boardwalk at Cove Beach and Courthouse Square.The Goderich Farmer’s Market is on Saturdays between 9 and 1. The Flea Market is on Sundays between 9 and 3.